By Leigh Johnston
University-educated preschool teachers could soon be earning more, with pay rises of up to 45 per cent, equating to a salary of up to $102,000 – if the Independent Education Union is successful in its submission to the Fair Work Commission (FWC).
On the scale of industry pay rates, the proposed rates of pay for an early childhood teacher with more than eight years’ experience would be higher than all other Award-reliant workers – ranking their pay packets close to the pay packets of most senior doctors, some very senior academics and some directors of nursing. The proposed pay for directors of long day-care centres would be on par with senior medical specialists and internationally recognised academics.
The Union says most early childhood teachers are currently paid at, or only slightly above, the award rate, which equates, on average to 22-30 per cent less than primary and secondary school teachers. It says that the wage differential contributes to shortages and turnover.
In its closing submission to a long-running case before the FWC, the Union argued its bid to lift the annual wage of the most experienced preschool teachers could be funded by fee increases of a few dollars, per child, per day.
The Union cited Bill Shorten’s contentious $10 billion pre-election proposal to fund wage rises of 20 per cent wage for childcare workers, saying the policy pointed “strongly to a wide community recognition” that the workers were underpaid.
The Australian Childcare Alliance opposes the “ambit” claim, warning that childcare operators wouldn’t have the capacity to pay big wage rises, let alone a modest wage rise: “even a more modest increase will represent an existential threat”.
The Alliance, representing long day-care owners and operators, claimed last year that granting the claim would also put strain on parents and the affordability of childcare. Industry figures yesterday claimed the daily increase per child would be “north of $5” in extra costs for parents.
The majority of parents now say they are paying over $100 a day for childcare according to a recent survey and close to 40 per cent of families claim the weekly fees are almost as much as their weekly home mortgage repayments.
However, the Union disputed the employer industry claims, saying parents wouldn’t be impacted – rather, it says operators could absorb the cost of the pay rises by “minor fee increases” largely subsidised by government funding, or through a small cut in their bottom line.
“Parents with lower income are more likely to be more heavily subsidised, which means that increases in rates of $1 to $5 per child per day to fund a pay rise would not lead to parents being unable to afford childcare,’’ according to the Union.
“The evidence demonstrates that, over recent years, childcare centres have increased rates by more than $5 per child per day and that the maximum increase sought in these proceedings could be fully funded by an increase in most cases of substantially less than $5 per childcare day, indicating that there is actually no difficulty affording the claim.”
It said operators “in what is, overall, a very profitable industry could absorb the claims entirely through a minor reduction in profit.”
In early May, Education Minister Dan Tehan said he would like to see “sustainable increases in pay for our early childhood workers” delivered “in a way that won’t lead to distortions and will not send fees through the roof.”